How we preview websites to clients (with development web hosting)

This is a guest post by James Rose.

When it comes time to show your clients what their website looks like before going live, it can cause a lot of extra work.

The best way we’ve found is to upload the website to a development server. Here the client can see exactly what the website will look like. It seems this is a much better option than screenshots, videos, live demos and other methods.

This requires someone to spend the time moving the website to an accessible server so that you can give your client a URL. That’s tedious, boring work. No thanks.

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The way we used to do it, and the way I’ve seen a lot of other web design companies preview their websites is to create a new subdomain or WordPress install on their existing server. Some people have all of this streamlined to make it easy. Most don’t.

The Easy Way

Thankfully, there is a web host which makes the process of duplicating a website onto a unique URL really easy.

This is now how we preview all our client’s websites.

To do this, we use Cloudways.

There are a whole lot of reasons why.

Side Note

We even use Cloudways for our company site hosting (like this site). Because:

  • It has a very simple control panel (not cPanel)
  • By default it uses memcached and varnish. That means fast sites, incredibly easy
  • You can choose which infrastructure you want to host on including
    • Digital Ocean (which we use)
    • Vultr
    • Amazon
    • Google
    • Kyup
  • You also choose where your server will live on those platforms
  • Everything is managed, and we don’t ever have to think/worry about it
  • For VPS hosting, it is so cheap
  • Can be easily scaled
  • Free SSL (LetsEncrypt)
  • I could go on and on

I had their website up while writing this post, and saw this line:

Cloud Hosting So Good You Will Kiss It

That’s not so far from the truth.

cloudways server options
So Many Options

Anyway, back to how it makes client site previews so simple.

Creating a new install

To set up a WordPress install, this is what you do.

  1. Click Add Application
  2. Choose the server you want to put it on
  3. Choose WordPress
  4. Name the install

That’s it.

When it’s done you get the WP creds, FTP, and a unique URL on a “cloudwaysapps” subdomain.

development wordpress install

Tip: After WP installs, I like to go to “Application Settings” and give the “Folder” a more meaningful name to match the website.

Another Tip: Create a server just for your client development sites. Turn off Varnish at the server level so that you don’t run into caching issues when updating things.

Migrating an existing development site

If you have an existing site you want to push info that hosting, all you need to do is:

  • Install the Cloudways Migrator Plugin on your dev site
  • Fill out some details
  • Hit Go

wordpress migration development server

A few minutes later, the site is on Cloudways. So freaking easy.

For the tech heads, it supports Git deployment as well.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m pretty excited by Cloudways. It’s one of the few tools I’ve ever found where I got crazy excited the first day I found it (number 1 is still ActiveCampaign).

Jump over to Cloudways and create an account. You can create your first server for free for 30 days while you get set up and play around.

James Rose

James is the co-founder of Content Snare and Aktura Technology. Once a web designer, his new priority is to help web designers and developers regain their lives, work less and get better clients.

He does this by writing helpful posts, building software and working with web designers to deliver the complex web development that they don't normally handle.

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  • Grant

    I. Completely. Concur.

    As Nacho Libre would say, “It’s the best!”

    • James Rose

      Haha love it 🙂

  • Rachel

    Thank you James for your valuable resources keep share the information like this…

  • Klaudia

    Definitely, its all makes sense and very useful. I’ll try out with clients


Content Snare is part of Aktura Technology, a web app and SaaS development company. Web designers work with us to expand their capabilities. If clients ever approach you to build something that you can’t quite handle in-house, drop us a line.


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